Guess what. It’s my birthday.
And today, I have a special treat for you. A sneak peek into Yaasha Moriah’s amazing novella, Wings Beneath Water. Two whole chapters! Because why wouldn’t someone who’s passionate about stories want to share one of their favorite reads of all time on their birthday???
In my Goodreads review, I said this about Wings Beneath Water: “[It’s a] poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” If you know me at all, then you know I don’t say such things lightly. Honestly, I can think of no better birthday present than for you to read to the end of this preview and tell me what you most enjoyed.
And of course I would be doubly ecstatic if you loved these two chapters enough to buy the book. But I think I’ve already said enough. Read the blurb or not—it doesn’t matter. The beginning speaks for itself.
“They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live.”
Brother. Ever since Risha was found on the shores of the river and adopted into the tribe, he and his brother Uraun have been inseparable. But when a neighboring tribe ignites war, killing the boys’ father, their lives start on a path that begins to divide them.
Siyeen. As the tribe goes to war, Risha’s gift awakens. He is the Siyeen, capable of reading a person’s true nature—and in Uraun’s nature, he reads only vengeance.
Fearing that his gift will endanger Uraun, Risha flees to the marshes. To save his brother’s soul, Risha must learn the secrets of the first Siyeen and seek the redemption that will grant his brother a second chance.
In this detail-rich tribal fantasy, author Yaasha Moriah asks questions about the nature of truth, brotherhood, and redemption.
They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live. If that is true, I may live yet. If it is not true, my blood will stain these waters within moments.
The marsh mists swirl around me like transparent hands, chilling the sweat on my forehead as my footsteps explode through the murky waters. I pause, catch a gnarled branch, and lean gasping over it.
The surface of the dark waters shows the face of a boy, with round cheeks and frightened purple eyes. Will the Karagi have mercy if they see me as a child?
No. They know what I am, and they will not waver. They will remain at a safe distance, and shoot to kill. They are master bowmen. I should know. They trained me.
That was before they knew what I am.
According to the wise woman, some say it only happens when you are born in the marshes on a moonless night. Others say that it begins when a child looks into the waters and, unknown to him, the Siyeen looks back at him from beneath the surface of the waters. Still others say it is a gift given to the one who seeks truth above all else.
If a gift results in your death, is it not a curse instead?
I have lingered too long. Even as I move, some instinctive twitch saves me, for a death-breeze fans my chin and a crimson ribbon opens across my collar-bone, the warning of a razor-sharp arrowhead.
I turn, and they are there, emerging like ghosts from the mist, their long dark hair loose around their lean faces, their leather vests leaving bare their muscled shoulders. Emotions stab my stomach, for Uraun leads them, the scar upon his right cheek lit in silver by the wavering moon.
“A child?” one hunter asks, glancing quickly at the foremost of the men.
“It is an illusion,” Uraun says darkly, and draws his shaft to the corner of his lips.
I cannot outrun his arrow. I have watched too many times the stumble of a woodland buck, stricken while in mid-flight by Uraun’s skill. I am also tired, too tired. This hunt has taken all my strength, all my heart.
How do you run away from someone you love?
“Uraun.” My voice carries across the waters. “Please.”
So long as he holds his breath, he will not shoot. Experienced archers release only at the exhalation.
I stand upon a small hillock of marsh weeds. The waters beyond my feet ripple like black silk, for I have come to the edge of the deeper waters, where the bottom is invisible and the feet find no purchase. Many things that have been lost to the deep marshes.
“Uraun,” I say again. The corner of my vision snags upon something, a glimmer in the water, like light reflecting upon an outstretched wing.
It is here.
Then Uraun’s jaw tightens, and, plunging, I give myself to the waters. The arrow’s shaft pierces my side and my instinctive gasp fills my mouth with liquid darkness.
Something smooth slides beneath my grasping fingers, then jaws clamp around my ankle and pull me downward, deep. I struggle, panic-stricken. Have I misunderstood? Did I see a wing, or only the glitter of a marsh eel’s serpentine body?
I spiral downward until my mind becomes as dark as the waters around me and my breath burns and explodes in my head. Then light births, broadens, shimmers, and I rush toward it. Am I swimming down? Or up? I cannot tell.
That is when I see the face staring back at me from the other side of the water.
I know it is my face because only I among the Karagi possess eyes the color of wild irises. It is the mark of my separation.
I turn from the water’s edge where I have laid my woven trap under the surface. Strange. I thought I saw a face in the waters, my own face, but leaner and more angular, an adult face clouded with scarlet from a wounded side.
“Risha!” My mother calls. “Come say goodbye to your father.”
I do not want to say goodbye to my father, but goodbyes are inevitable.
I wade ashore and jog barefooted from the tributary, up the hill, past our dome-shaped hut of woven wood and dried river clay and descend the rocky slope. My father waits by the glass-gray river near the long boat, in which other men have already taken up their paddles and await the last of their companions to join them.
My father goes to trade upriver with the neighboring tribes, a gesture of goodwill. It is a journey made only a few times a year, and it keeps a tenuous peace amongst the People of the River. My father kneels to kiss Uraun’s forehead, then mine.
“Take care of your brother,” he tells each of us. I do not need telling. Uraun and I are inseparable, and have been since the day my mother found me as an infant at the edge of the marshes, abandoned. Were it not for my eyes, Uraun and I could be twins, for we have the same raven hair and brown skin.
My father steps into the long boat with the sure-footedness of a man long acquainted with the roll of the water. He sits with the other traders, and raises a long paddle that dips soundlessly, then rises silver from the waters, then dips again, as the craft glides into the current and toils upriver. Two other Karagi longboats join his, staggered a little behind in a V formation like the migrating geese of autumn.
My father lifts his hand, touching two fingers to his heart, his lips, his forehead, then raising them in the traditional farewell. It is the sign of truth, truth buried in the heart, spoken from the lips, treasured in the mind. It is the sign of our people.
My father’s deep voice carries over the water. “Seek truth always.”
“And the truth will preserve you,” the watching families reply as one.
That is when I see it, a vision that jars me from reality. In the marred reflection, every man in the boats lies dead, twisted limbs dangling over the sides, half-closed eyes frozen. Even my father.
My gaze startles up from the waters. The men in the longboats are living, but the men in the reflection remain dead.
I do not know what to do, so I am silent, but my flesh quivers.
Uraun thinks that I am weeping and touches my shoulder. I turn my face from him, for if he sees my horror, he will ask questions I do not know how to answer.
Five days later, the river returns our men.
Every one of them has been slain, and some still carry Sarudi arrows in their bodies. When Uraun and I hear the ululating wails of the women, we abandon our quest for duck eggs in the shallows and scramble toward the faster water. But father’s brother sees us and runs toward us.
“No!” he says in a tone that slaps us both across the face. “Go to your hut.”
He sees the protest in our faces, but his stance is firm, his tearless eyes smoldering, and he is an elder. We go to the hut, our skin rippling with fear and do not speak.
We learn later that every warrior’s face has been slit from ear to lip, a sign of a warrior utterly defeated. For the living, it is a permanent mark of shame and no feats of bravery can wipe away the stigma of that disfigurement of defeat. For the dead, it is a mark of an enemy’s utter contempt to dishonor a warrior’s valiant acts in life by smearing his honor after death. Such a cowardly act is beyond comprehension among the People of the River. The Sarudi have not only become bold, but they have lost their honor. An enemy without honor is a fearsome thing.
It is customary for the grieving to wash their hands and faces, and to paint black at their hearts, their lips, and their foreheads. When I bend over the water bucket to wash my hands after Uraun, I see my father’s face in the reflection, his eyes glazed in death, and behind him, indistinct with smoke and overshadowed by a sky like blood, I see the People of the River at war.
I have to close my eyes to complete the ritual of mourning.
The weak Peace of the River is broken.
The Sarudi, we learn, demanded a toll for passage through their waters, and our traders, knowing that the river is no one’s to claim, refused to pay. The Sarudi replied with arrows and spears.
Such a clear excuse for war demands answer, so the remaining Karagi men arm themselves and go to war with the Sarudi. The women and the old and the sick remain with a few choice warriors for defense.
My mother kneels by the grave of my father day and night, and eats little, too exhausted to weep, too broken to live. Her older brother offers us a home with his family, and his wife cares for my mother and coaxes her patiently to drink a little soup every day. Uraun and I cannot speak for weeks, and our cousins leave us be. No Karagi interferes with another’s sorrow, except, as in the case of my mother, to preserve life.
I often find Uraun by the river’s edge, the wind lifting his long black hair like an outstretched raven’s wing. His eyes are filled with pain. I cannot bear to look at him, and spend many days in the marshes, fishing with a net I have woven and knotted from long roots. The marshes are my solace. Some see only the skeletons of trees and the cloudiness of the water. I see the life of geese and ducks and frogs, and the scattered reflection of a limitless sky.
The Karagi wait, breathless and tense, until their warriors return from the battle with the Sarudi, victorious but with many dead. An uncle and two of my cousins are gone, slain in battle. The few prisoners that the Sarudi took during the battle float back to our village, mutilated horrifically.
After the funeral rites, a restless peace settles over the river like a damp mist. We know that the war is not over and some from the Karagi journey to ask the Haveddi for aid. Such negotiations can take months, we know, but secretly we all wonder if the messengers have been caught by the Sarudi. We visit the river’s edge every day to see if the Sarudi have sent their bodies back to us.
The war sleeps, but we know it will wake again soon.
Buy the book to read more! It’s available in digital form direct from Yaasha’s webpage here.
About the Author
Yaasha Moriah writes speculative fiction stories that incorporate the painful, the beautiful, and the numinous, following the pattern of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, of which C. S. Lewis said: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”
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